Bill Walton first saw Yao Ming six years ago, at the Sydney
Olympics. Like everyone else gaping at the 7-foot-5 prodigy, Walton
said, "I was blown away by the potential."
In his fifth season, Yao is blowing people away more than
He is 11th in the league with 26.4 points per game, the best
among centers. With 10.4 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks, Yao
finally is entering the stratosphere of elite big men, at least
At a time when the center position is in serious decline in a
sport that has given us Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao's only peer, Shaquille
O'Neal, will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks after knee surgery
O'Neal's slow start in defending the Miami Heat's championship,
coupled with the inevitable breakdown of his 34-year-old, 315-pound
body, have some projecting that Yao, 26, could overtake Shaq as the
only dominant center.
Some say Yao's time is now.
When fans at Madison Square Garden get a glimpse of Yao tonight
as the Houston Rockets play the New York Knicks, they will behold a
dominant force and one of the inspiring talents that have made the
NBA worth watching again.
But according to Walton, league executives, and scouts, they
will not be watching the best center in the NBA.
Not yet. Not as long as Shaq is still employed.
"Yao's numbers already indicate that he is at the top," said
Walton, a Hall of Fame center turned ESPN analyst. "But he has to
learn how to turn statistics into impact and control of the game.
Because even at this stage of Shaq's career, Shaq still has more
stage presence than any player in the game. And the championships
are always going to run through Shaq until he retires."
(Reuters November 21, 2006)